EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS

October 04, 2001 12:00 am
COMMUNITY PREPAREDNESS: Ray Hamann, center, explains how mutual aid agreement provide backup support for all the countys volunteer departments as well as the La Grande Fire Department. The fire chief was among more than a dozen representatives of law enforcement, emergency services, and community agencies talking about disaster preparedness  at a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored community meeting Wednesday evening. (The Observer/KELLY WARD).
COMMUNITY PREPAREDNESS: Ray Hamann, center, explains how mutual aid agreement provide backup support for all the countys volunteer departments as well as the La Grande Fire Department. The fire chief was among more than a dozen representatives of law enforcement, emergency services, and community agencies talking about disaster preparedness at a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored community meeting Wednesday evening. (The Observer/KELLY WARD).

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

We live in an open society, La Grande Fire Chief Bruce Weimer told an audience Wednesday night. But security is an issue. Things have changed in our society, and not for the better.

Fire chiefs, law enforcement officers, county officials, state road officials, and representatives of volunteer and state agencies explained how their offices and agencies work together in the case of a national or man-made disaster.

About 60 people gathered at the La Grande Middle School to learn about emergency preparedness in the area.

On one hand, some members of the audience seemed relieved to know that there are basic emergency plans in place. Others though, responded with requests for further meetings to identify and plan how to meet community needs if a large-scale disaster occurs.

A woman with nursing experience, who is new to the area in the past two years, said that we have to think in a new way after the Sept. 11 attacks in New

York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

Id like another meeting, she said, after hearing that police and fire departments in the area struggle to maintain the equipment they have, and often dont have seldom-used protective gear.

The first hour of the meeting was spent with the officials and agency representatives briefly explaining how they plan and prepare for disasters.

Both Grande Ronde Hospital and Beverly Higby of the Red Cross talked about disaster drills, and Union Countys Emergency Services Director Dara Decker

explained the countys emergency operations plan.

Its an all-hazards approach, Decker said, noting that it covers the coordinated operation of law enforcement, service and volunteers in both natural emergencies such as storms or floods and in man-made situations. Her

role, she added, would be to coordinate resources to handle the emergency.

Decker also said that Union County has in place a number of agreements with other cities, counties and the state should additional support be needed.

Many questions were directed to Cheryl Humphrey, public information officer with the Umatilla County Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program.

Humphrey provided some background on the chemical depots history and current situation, but stressed that Union County is outside the impact area of any leak from any of the three chemical agents stored at the depot.

We are one of only eight places in the continental U.S. where chemical weapons are stored, she said. The weapons have been stored near Hermiston since the early 1960s, and work is under way to complete a facility to destroy the remaining supplies by 2007.

Humphrey tried to emphasize three points to the audience: If the worst was to happen, the impact would be in an area of eight to 10 miles; the situation would last for a matter of hours, not days; and people need to listen to the radio.

While attention was on the depot, Weimer advised that there might be things closer to home to think about.

I think we need to focus on the most likely things to happen here in La Grande, Weimer said.

He pointed out that railroad tankers carrying up to 30,000 gallons of chlorine frequently side on rail lines in the city.

And while the threat of terrorist attacks has been talked about at a national level for a long time, and a lot of federal money has gone into preparations, it hasnt reached us. Were lacked the basic equipment, the basic protective stuff, he said.

Im not too concerned about massive attacks, Weimer said, adding that he just recently attended training on biological contaminations, but if somebody is mad enough, they can do anything.

Plans for emergencies and disasters, and how they would be handled, were discussed by the county public works department, the Oregon Department of Transportation, Grande Ronde Hospial, the Department of Community and Human Services, the public health department, the Red Cross, the Union County Airport, Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative, and the radio stations in the emergency alert

system.

Higby, with the Red Cross, also explained that the region is still short of blood supplies, but blood can only be collected by trained staff from Boise.

The Red Cross will still provide what training it can, and has agreements with 18 area churches if emergency shelters are needed.

The Red Cross, she said, received $10,000 in recent weeks to make up its $30,000 shortfall in Baker and Union counties.

The meeting ended with the

La Grande-Union County Chamber of Commerce agreeing to consider organizing another community preparedness meeting to keep people informed.